Friday, April 28, 2023

Area students dazzle in World Robotics Championships

By Ed Pierce

Three local students will never forget how they spent their spring break last week as they traveled to Houston, Texas to compete in the FIRST® World Robotics Championships, toured NASA’s Johnson Space Center and spent time with Maine astronaut Jessica Meir. Baxter Academy for Science and Technology’s Isabella Messer of Raymond, Simeon Pillsbury of Windham, and Baxter Engelman of Raymond, are members of The Outliers, a community-based team of students in grades 8 to 12 who qualified for the event in Houston based upon their exceptional skills in programming, building, and robotics.

Three Baxter Academy students were part of The Outliers
team that competed in the FIRST® World Robotics
Championships in Houston, Texas last weekend. From
left are Isabella Messer of Raymond, Simeon Pillsbury of
Windham and Baxter Engelman of Raymond.
The Outliers team itself has about 35 members in all and enjoyed a historically successful year on many levels this past year, including claiming three Autonomous Award titles for their robot, winning numerous local and district events, and captured the Maine State Championship. The team qualified for the FIRST® World Robotics Championships by winning the New England Championships in Springfield, Massachusetts on April 8.

One of the team’s coaches, Jonathan Amory, is a teacher at Waynflete School, and he says that teamwork has played an important role in the success that The Outliers have earned.

“The ability to come together as a team and manage a project from start to finish and work as part of a team for a greater goal is really the most important thing this team of students has learned this year,” Amory said. “I’ve been impressed at how they have come together when it really matters. It’s inevitable that not all students are able to get along, but to get them to all work together and collaborate and manage this project has been most impressive.”

The FIRST® robotics competition was founded by inventor Dean Kamen in 1989 and has evolved into a global movement by combining the excitement of traditional sports with the rigor of STEM learning, engaging millions of people with programs that have a proven impact on learning, interest, and skill-building inside and outside of the classroom. It builds powerful mentorship relationships between young people and STEM professionals, helping kids gain confidence to explore the innovation process while they learn valuable science, engineering, technology, teamwork, and problem-solving skills.

Student participants are tasked with designing and building a functional robot and to discover the value of persistence, innovation, teamwork, and the engineering design process. The goal of the competition is to create individuals who will change the world, both today and tomorrow.

Engleman is a senior and plans to attend the University of Maine at Orono to study engineering in the fall. This was his third year as a member of The Outliers. He said he first joined the team because he wanted opportunities to explore more engineering, and the team offered a way to apply some skills I was learning like Computer Assisted Design and the design process.

“The most challenging part of the season for me is always just before championships. It's the time where there's minimal work to be done on the robot, but we haven't started our off-season projects like improving organization or designing a second more experimental robot,” Engelman said. “My favorite part of robotics is the excitement and genuine interest everyone involved feels about problem solving. The competitions are extremely collaborative, and any team you ask will answer questions about their robot for as long as you ask them.”

Pillsbury is a junior and chose to join The Outliers in 10th grade because he heard they needed programming help, and he knew a little about that topic.

“The most challenging aspect of robotics for me is the waiting around between doing things. Often you just have these voids of inactivity, where you can't do something until another sub-team finishes what they're doing on the robot,” Pillsbury said. “The thing I like most about robotics is the community built in robotics, not only in The Outliers team, but also in the FIRST® community as a whole. At every event, you find people happy to help, and excited to learn about how you designed your robot. It's really awesome.”

As far as the future goes, Pillsbury says he’s aiming for a career as a freelance engineer.

Messer, a freshman, said she’s found the most challenging aspect of robotics competition to be learning about the FIRST® Robotics Program because she had never done anything like this before.

“One of the most significant things I appreciate about our specific team is our coach, Jon Amory. He invests thousands of hours with us each season and it's not just about robots, although he knows how to make a world class one, he mentors us on how to be a team,” Messer said. You won't find him in our pit or on the sidelines, he most often is in the stands. The process he invests in us as we soak up his knowledge in engineering and robotics is inspiring.”

She said the teamwork aspect of the robotics competition is daunting.

“I think it is really cool how the team works to mentor younger students how to learn new skills and be a leader. It is like a never-ending circle, such as there are a lot of seniors on the team, and as they graduate younger students are taking their places,” Messer said. “I really like this because I have learned a lot from the older kids this year and I hope to do the same for future kids. I feel like it is a core tenant of team to pass down your knowledge and make the team better. The proof of this is that we are fortunate to have several mentors who were previously team members of The Outliers. I count it a privilege to be a part of this great group of knowledgeable and challenging friends.”

In the FIRST® World Championships held at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, about 600 teams from 29 different countries across the world competed. The Outliers team placed third in its division, good for 27th place overall in the world. Team members also won the Innovation in Control Award for its unique swerve mechanism on their robot.

After the competition ended, The Outliers were treated to a tour of the Johnson Space Center in Houston. While on the tour, they were able to meet and spend an hour with Jessica Meir of Caribou, a NASA Astronaut. Meir shared with the students an inspirational message of following their dreams. She spoke about how diversity, recognition of talent, listening and discerning what mentors offer, and the value of teamwork have mattered to her and should be meaningful to them too. <

Windham town hall offices shifting to four-day work week

By Ed Pierce

Starting June 21, Windham Town Hall employees will be shifting to a four-day work week.

Following a discussion during a Windham Town Council workshop earlier this month, Windham Town Manager Barry Tibbetts consulted department heads and other town hall staff and asked them how to best accommodate residents while creating a competitive work/life balance for employees.

Employees of the Windham Town Clerk's office will adapt 
to a new work schedule soon as Town Hall workers will be
shifting to a new four-day work schedule starting June 21.
Tibbetts said other nearby communities have adopted four-day work week schedules and currently having a number of municipal vacancies, Windham needs to be as competitive as possible to attract and retain workers. During the previous workshop, several councilors expressed concerns about town hall offices being closed on Fridays and those seeking services having to wait until Monday for employees to be available.

“To be competitive, we need to be similar to towns around us yet be accessible for services,” Tibbetts told town council members during a meeting on Tuesday night.

According to Tibbetts, department heads told him that the greatest demand for town hall services is earlier in the day and not in the late afternoon and evening. He said many services available at town hall can also be found easily and accomplished online.

Because the town charter grants him the authority to determine operational hours for employees, Tibbetts said he’s willing to try shifting to a four-day work week for town hall staff on a six-month trial basis.

“After review of the proposed operational times, discussions with staff at multiple levels, comparisons with similar municipalities, I have made the decision to amend the operational open times for the town,” Tibbetts said.

The new hours effective June 21 will be 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays, 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Tuesdays, and 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Thursdays, and closed on Fridays.

“This date coincides with the time-recording system for payroll. This change does not affect the total hours worked; those remain the same. I asked staff to provide what they thought were the best times for providing services to the public with a four-day work week schedule,” Tibbetts said. “The majority of the staff felt the following time, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., worked best for the public with an extended day. The town allows for numerous opportunities on-line to re-register vehicles, smaller recreational vehicles, trailers, pets, hunting & fishing licenses, recreational programming, voting registration, request vital records, and taxes.”

He said advances in technology opportunities further enhance the convenience of reaching the town hall and that if a resident cannot make the time frame of hours, a friend or relative can process a re-registration for them or they can use mail.

With the change, public entry to municipal offices on Fridays will not be available, excluding the gym at town hall, which has a separate access point.

In a memo to councilors, Tibbetts pointed out that some senior level and other staff members may work on Fridays to process necessary filings as needed, but public access to municipal offices will be closed.

“Fire, Police and Public Works currently work a variable schedule with no major impacts from this proposed four-day work week,” Tibbetts said. “There may be some union language changes to work through on existing contracts. The library currently has a six-day week and would look to maintain that schedule with modifications to hours open and closing while coordinating staff to have two consecutive days off.

Tibbetts said that the June 21 effective date for the change has been established to provide an eight-week window to let the public know about the new hours for the Windham Town Hall.

“It’ll be a bit of an educational process and it’ll take some time, but we need to move forward with this,” Tibbetts told councilors.

He says a summary report will be provided to the Town Council in six months about the effectiveness of changing the hours for operations and any next steps, along with tracking of transactions for analysis. <

Friday, April 21, 2023

Buddy mentoring program promotes leadership, teamwork among students

By Jolene Bailey

People can thrive off companionship during their lifetime, especially for young minds creating their future. Often people will surround themselves with friends, or people they look up to. Those role models can have an impact on minds and in a social aspect, friends can help each other in creating intelligence. That’s one of the reasons classrooms can often contain activities such as group work and special guest speakers.

Windham Middle School eighth-grade students work with
Windham Primary School second graders during a Buddy
Mentoring session in the cafeteria at Windham Middle 
School earlier this month. The program pairs older students
with younger kids in an effort to develop leadership skills
while providing role models for elementary students.
As an example of this, Windham Primary and Middle School’s Buddy Mentoring Program is a partnership between the eighth-grade students assisting second graders by teaching leadership and role modeling to younger children.

“The buddy program is important to me because I can make a difference in one more person's life,” said Eva Vancelette, an eighth grader.

These meetings between the WMS and WPS students are held once a month and feature science and math experiments, but the program emphasizes creating relationships between the older and younger students in the classrooms.

Demonstrating what this means from a student point of view, eighth-grade participant Parker Sperry said it’s great for some younger students to have someone to look up to.

“The buddy system is great because it gives the younger kids a chance to have an older sibling figure that maybe they don't have at home,” Sperry said.

For the eighth graders, taking on a leadership role teaches them how to be more respectful and responsible with their words and actions toward others. The WMS students learn about morals and values while creating new friendships at the same time. Research has shown that buddy programs are an effective way to help encourage a positive, sibling-like relationship between students. The program strives to instill social and emotional learning and is a way for teachers to accelerate crucial development of associated social and emotional skills while boosting self-esteem, self-determination and self-advocacy among students.

As of this year, four middle school teachers and three second grade teachers have come together to be involved and continue this program, which has been in existence for more than a decade.

“Middle school students have connected with many peers and established a working relationship with someone younger,” said Pam Mallard, eighth grade coordinator. “Community spirit is established in a positive manner. Students will often ask when the next meeting is out of excitement.”

The program’s monthly meeting involves about 160 students, tripling participation from about 50 students when the program started.

Bebe King, the program’s second-grade coordinator, said that the younger students benefit tremendously from this opportunity.

“We have seen learners who are normally reserved and quiet form an instant bond with their buddy,” King said. “We have seen students who are new be paired with an eighth grader who is also new to the district, which has helped them navigate the emotions of being the ‘new kid’ and become positive connections for each other.”

With these kids being a part of the community and the school district’s future, it’s important for them to be able gain a sense of themself and their skills.

“The fact I get to be a part of a younger generation's life makes my day,” eighth-grade participant Kaylee Napolitano said.

King said that the bonds formed between the students has worked wonders for some in positive and beneficial ways.

“We have seen students who struggle to make connections instantly gravitate towards their middle school buddy and make lasting connections,” King said. “Overall, we have seen success in the program’s ability to provide a sense of community within our schools and foster feelings of confidence in our students.” <

East Windham Conservation Project on track for fall opening

By Ed Pierce

In a recent update from the Presumpscot Region Land Trust, officials say that work is progressing to create the East Windham Conservation Project, which when completed will become part of a 2,000-acre conservation corridor and larger than any currently existing state park in Southern Maine.

On track to open this fall, the East Windham
Conservation Project will conserve 750 acres
of forest land and build 10 miles of new 
multi-use trails that connect to 20 miles of
existing trails, making it a destination for
walking, hiking, mountain biking, trail
running, snowshoeing, cross country skiing,
and bird and wildlife watching.
In a newsletter, the land trust reports that the project, a collaborative effort with the town of Windham, will be roughly the size of Bradbury State Park and will become the largest wildlife habitat, clean water, and recreational trail corridor in Greater Portland. The corridor will include the Lowell Preserve, the North Falmouth Community Forest, and the Blackstrap Hill Preserve.

“We are on track to conserve the land this summer and build out miles of trails this year,” wrote Presumpscot Regional Land Trust Executive Director Rachelle Curran Apse in the newsletter. “This fall, we plan to host a Grand Opening. Stay tuned for an official notice that the land is conserved, followed by a date for the Grand Opening.”

In its update, the land trust says that the outdoor experience will feature a 30-mile trail network with 10 miles of new trails for walkers, hikers, bird and wildlife watchers, trail runners, and mountain bikers.

“We are delighted that it will also include a one-mile universal access trail for people of all ages and abilities to visit Little Duck Pond and an outlook with sweeping views of the White Mountains,” Curran Apse said.

The $4 million land protection and outdoor recreation project includes funding from the Land for Maine's Future program along with lead business partner Gorham Savings Bank, and from dozens of additional businesses and foundations, and hundreds of individuals and families.

Once open, the East Windham Conservation Project will conserve 750 acres of forestland and build 10 miles of new multi-use trails that connect to 20 miles of existing trails, making a destination for walking, hiking, mountain biking, trail running, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and bird and wildlife watching. It will protect 38 acres of wetlands, 1,500 feet of Little Duck Pond frontage, and miles of pristine headwater streams that lead to Forest Lake, Highland Lake, and onto the Presumpscot River.

The area will provide programming opportunities for school and afterschool groups and create an accessible one-mile trail for people of all ages to walk, push a stroller, and bike to visit Little Duck Pond and visit a scenic overlook with sweeping views of the White Mountains.

Windham’s Open Space Plan has identified developing and maintaining open space partnerships and relationships as key mechanisms to grow conservation efforts in the town. When the Windham Town Council formally adopted the Open Space Plan in 2021, Windham representatives reached out to the Presumpscot Regional Land Trust to become an open space partner by holding a conservation easement and sharing responsibility for the trail management on the adjacent 308-acre Lowell Preserve.

During a Windham Town Council meeting earlier in 2022, Linda Brooks, Windham Parks and Recreation Director, said that the creation of the East Windham Conservation project will expand the town’s growing tourist economy by creating a new outdoor destination with miles of accessible forested trails and a spectacular 360-degree view from which will be the only observation tower from on top of one of the highest points in the Greater Portland area.

"Four season recreational opportunities will help local business realize benefits from tourists throughout the year,” said Brooks. “Acquisition of this property will protect resources for hiking, fishing, hunting, snowmobiling, skiing, mountain biking, picnicking and other recreational activities. In addition to all the recreational benefits for all ages, there are educational benefits to be considered as well. We do have members from RSU 14 who will serve on the steering committee to help us with educational development. The East Windham Conservation Project offers a unique opportunity for K to 12 educational activities in a large and diverse outdoor classroom setting.”

Last summer, the land trust received nearly 400 gifts for the East Windham Conservation Project, and it is now in the final stages of conserving land for the project before construction of the trailhead and 10 miles of new trails can begin this summer.

The State of Maine also recognized the significance of the East Windham Conservation Project by approving $998,000 Lands for Maine’s Future grant and matched by a bond created by the town. During Windham’s Annual Town Meeting last June, Windham residents voted to allow the town to enter a partnership with Presumpscot Regional Land Trust and authorized a bond to purchase and conserve 661 acres near Little Duck Pond in East Windham for the conservation project.

Future plans envisioned for the site include creation of a year-round trailhead parking area, multi-use trails, access to fishing, hunting and wildlife observation area, a universal access trail connecting from Falmouth Road to Little Duck Pond and Atherton Hill, an observation tower that will provide scenic views to Casco Bay and Mount Washington, and destinations with scenic views of the western mountains and the pond for visitors. <

Friday, April 14, 2023

Windham Odyssey of the Mind team earns a spot in world finals

By Jolene Bailey

Coming in first place in their division, Windham Primary School and Manchester’s combined Odyssey of the Mind team participated in the Nor’easter Tournament at Sanford High School on March 25, landing them invitations to the World Finals.

Windham's combined Odyssey of the Mind team made up
of students from Windham Primary School and Manchester
School won their division in the state competition at
Sanford High School and qualified to compete in the 
World Finals in Michigan in May. From left are Colin
Miller, Ava Rhoads, Cora Miller, Omer the Odyssey Mascot,
Marin Miele, Bryn Johnson, Fynnleigh Mayo, and Celia
Odyssey of the Mind’s purpose is to educate all students how to use and develop their pure creativity to solve problems of any kind without fear or high confusion. When competing, the team’s goal is to fit all the required pieces into an eight-minute performance skit. From making props, to coming up with lines, teams do it all by themselves.

During practice, students learn and work on their teamwork and being a quick thinker. The strategy of being fast helps them in the long run with verbal and hands-on spontaneous problem solving.

Windham Primary School’s third graders and Manchester School’s fourth and fifth grades had formed a team of seven members to compete in the Odyssey of the Mind competition. The seven student members range in age from 8 to 11.

During these competitions, students can gain a sense of self confidence while grasping an emphasis on public speaking, teamwork, and time management, all of which are important skills, despite their age.

“They performed in the gym in front of a table of judges and audience. Once they completed their performance, we watched some other teams compete that had the same problem as them as well as some other problems. These kids always like seeing what other teams come up with,” said Windham coach Rebecca Miller, who runs this Odyssey of the Mind engaged team and guided their success in their division at the state competition.

Miller said that coaching the team was an enjoyable experience.

“I personally am really connected to this team, other than the fact that two of my kids are on it, I've coached most of them since first grade. So, they've been together and grown quite a bit as a team,” said Miller.

This is Miller’s sixth year coaching in Odyssey of the Mind. Before her, three Windham teams in the past qualified for the world finals. This year’s team will be the fourth.

“The best part of coaching is supporting them through problem solving and watching the super creative solutions they come up with. I can't offer any outside assistance, so what they come up with is all on their own,” said Miller.

With an experienced coach to lead them, this team has shown progress from as early as last year.

“The kids had high hopes as they got third place last year. This year, they were really anxious,” Miller said. “When they called third place, then second place, our stomachs were definitely in knots. When they announced we got first place, I was definitely crying tears of pride - they earned it.”

We all face decision-making every day and sometimes without even realizing it. Solving problems is a skill that anyone at any age has to conquer. For this team to be fully able to attend and participate in the world finals, $14,000 has to be raised for travel expenses, transportation, and registration for the team itself and chaperones.

Windham Primary School has supplied members with registration, t-shirts, and family participation. To raise money, the team has hosted a movie night and a community raffle to help reach their goal. Moving forward, they’re planning to host another movie night and more raffles and a color dash.

“These are ultimately community events that we look forward to having regularly to engage families in school all while raising some money to continue to support Odyssey of the Mind,” said Miller.

Since meetings back in November, this team has formed many bonds and memories in hopes to make it where they are today. Located at Michigan State University, the 2023 World Championships for Odyssey of the Mind will be May 24 to May 27.

To help the team through a donation, checks can be sent to Windham Primary School, Educational Way, Windham, ME 04062, or by sending an email to <

Raymond budget proposal slightly up from current year

By Ed Pierce

In formulating the budget proposal for Raymond’s Select Board to examine for the 2023-2024 fiscal year before putting it before voters, Raymond Town Manager Don Willard had to take several factors into consideration.

Raymond's initial budget proposal for 2023-2024 is
$18,640,359 and after revisions by the Raymond 
Select Board, voters will cast ballots to approve or 
reject the budget at the Annual Town Meeting on
Raymond has increased staffing levels and public safety employee retirement options have gone up. Along with that, capital expenditures for the town have risen and the library is offering new services and programming. Raymond has expanded recreational programs and inflation has resulted in higher pricing for town purchases.

Willard’s original budget proposal was $18,640,359, up from 2022-2023’s budget of $18,423,349.

“The budget represents a 7.30 percent ($455,932) increase in gross expenditures over last fiscal year,” Willard wrote to the Select Board in introducing the budget proposal. “After municipal revenues were applied to the gross budget, it results in a 9.53 net increase ($358,382) over last fiscal year.”

Willard reported to the Raymond Select Board that the new estimated taxable real estate valuation is $8 million, resulting in an increase of $120,000 in additional tax revenue, if calculated at a $15 per thousand valuation rate.

“This is a conservative estimate from the contractor assessor,” he said.

According to Willard, municipal revenues for the town are projected to increase by 3.91 percent, or about $97,000.

“The budget does not factor in the estimated increase in property tax revenues, any increase in revenue sharing, not does it include any undesignated fund balance or surplus,” he said.

Key items in the new Raymond budget proposal include fire department salaries rising from $902,523 to $999,358; fire department gasoline costs doubling from $15,000 annually to $30,000; Public Works costs increasing from $917.013 to $930,356; Parks and Recreation funding increasing from $156,343 to $164,084; Worker’s Compensation, Public Works gasoline and diesel fuel costs remaining the same as last year at $60,500; liability and unemployment insurance costs rising from $137,325 to $164,200.

Cumberland County’s tax assessment for Raymond jumps from $817,347 to $974,325. Benefit costs for Raymond town employees will increase 15.02 percent from $794,762 to $914,135.

Planned capital improvement funding for town projects such as road paving, a playground and work to municipal facilities are increasing from $890,000 to $965,000.

Willard says the town expects to take in $16,064,050 in real estate and personal property taxes and earn about $14,000 from investments in FY 2023-2024, up from $8,000 this year.

As far as state revenue sharing goes, Raymond is expecting to receive about $505,000 from Maine, about the same as projected in last year’s budget.

The town’s debt service decreases in 2023-2024 down to $353,114 from $357,614 this current year.

Under the budget proposal, funding for utility costs for Raymond town buildings will increase from $13,000 to $22,000.

Throughout March, the town’s Budget Committee worked with town departments in making budget revisions and a final budget was adopted at Tuesday night’s Raymond Select Board meeting.

The budget put forward does not include the RSU 14 budget which is still being calculated and will be separately approved or rejected by voters in June.

Raymond voters will cast ballots during the Annual Town Meeting on June 13 at Jordan-Small Middle School regarding the town budget. <

Friday, April 7, 2023

Windham author publishes new children’s book about lobsters

By Ed Pierce

Mary-Ann Coppersmith of Windham knows a thing or two about lobsters from being part of a lobstering family. The crustaceans have fascinated her so much that she’s written a new children’s book, “The Three Little Lobsters,” drawn from the seafaring experiences of her husband of 46 years and the curiosity of her three grandchildren.

Windham's Mary-Ann Coppersmith has written a new
children's book called 'The Three Little Lobsters' that
is drawn upon the seafaring experiences of her husband
and the curiosity of her grandchildren.
She says she was inspired to write the book after she experienced the fascination that rare crustaceans inspire around the world. Her husband, Capt. Bill Coppermith, sparked a media frenzy when he caught a rare bright orange lobster in 2015 and then discovered an equally rare cotton candy lobster in 2021 while lobstering in Casco Bay Inlet.

“My grandchildren are what finally motivated me to follow my dream of publishing this book,” Mary-Ann Coppersmith said. “I hope this story will be a favorite of many, young and old, as you follow Captain Bill’s adventures of finding this trio.”

The manuscript for the new book took her about a year to complete, from start to finish, and is published by Page Publishing.

“The hardest part of the book was describing the first rare lobsters namesake. The other two were named after my grandchildren,” she said.

Coppersmith, a 60-year resident of Windham, said that she did a lot of her best writing for the book early in the day.

“I found my inspiration for writing was best in the morning,” she said. “I kept a notebook with me and when an idea or memory surfaced about the rare crustaceans I would write it down.”

Her husband has been lobstering for more than 43 years and some of that time out on the ocean included the Coppersmith’s young sons when they were growing up.

“Our two boys' Bill Jr. and Andrew worked on his boat, the fishing vessel "Billy and Andy,” since the age of 10,” Coppersmith said. “We owned and operated a seafood market, the "Fishermen's Net," which had two locations, one in Portland, and the second one in Raymond, where my husband would supply his fresh daily catch of lobsters.”

Coppersmith says that she and her husband attribute the strong work ethic and entrepreneurial

accomplishments of her sons to working on their father’s boat at a young age.

Now adults, Bill Jr. together with his wife own and operate the "Fisherman's Catch" in Raymond and Andrew together with his business partner, Andy, own and operate "A PLUS" Trucks in Windham.

“The Three Little Lobsters” book itself is an entertaining and colorfully illustrated picture book with lilting rhymes and charming characters and sure to become a favorite with young readers and a delightful addition to any children’s library.

The book was published in January and seems to have caught on quickly. It’s being purchased by libraries across America and sold nationally at Barnes & Noble Booksellers, Walmart and many other regional U.S. bookstore chains, including at Sherman’s Maine Coast Book Store in Windham.

For readers who wish to purchase Coppersmith’s work “The Three Little Lobsters” online, it is also available at the Apple iTunes Store, Amazon, or on Google Play.

And while the new book was being finished, the lobstering family received some great news that will lead to a sequel soon.

“During the process of publishing the book, our family received exciting news about another grandchild which would be the inspiration for my second book,” Coppersmith said. “Our third grandchild, Liam, would be a big brother to baby Landen. The sequel to my book will be about ‘Liam The Lobster’ and how he guides his brother, baby lobster Landen, through the deep blue sea.” <

Manchester School students take food insecurity to heart

By Ed Pierce

Like a pebble thrown into a pond, a recent presentation at Manchester School in Windham has created positive ripples that will help make the community stronger.

Some of the Manchester School fourth graders who helped
create and stage a food drive to benefit the Windham Food
Pantry are, from left, Aubrey Eklund, Maddie Talbot,
Ryder Rice, and Ryder Alfred-Smothers.
Back on Jan. 5, Misty Coolidge, a New Gloucester resident and Mrs. Worldwide 2022, shared with Manchester fourth-grade students her message of how everyone can work to help resolve the problem of food insecurity in Windham. Coolidge has dedicated her adult life to fighting hunger and addressing food insecurity following a childhood of relying on food stamps and the WIC program. In speaking about food insecurity and hunger at the school, she read excerpts from the book “We All Stir The Pot: To End Hunger” that she co-authored with Bobbie Bensur, and her appearance was part of a hunger unit with lessons in six different classrooms about equity, scarcity, needs and wants, available resources and food insecurity.

According to Leah Richards, a Manchester School fourth-grade teacher, Coolidge’s words impacted students significantly.

“All of the students who participated in the presentation from Misty were inspired and motivated to make a difference,” Richards said. “Her stories of helping the Good Shepherd Food Bank gave students the idea that they can also help. I believe that hearing her stories of helping others pushed students to think about how they can give back, especially to the local community.”

Richards said that seven students from two classrooms decided to conduct a food drive of their own to do something to help address the problem of hunger in the community.

“Students worked on creating the idea for their food drive during our project week in the middle of February,” Richards said. “When we returned from break on Feb. 27, students began to put their work into action. They worked on gathering donations through March 24.”

She said that participating students made announcements at school, both in the morning and in the afternoon, asking students and staff to bring in donations for the food pantry. They also sent home a note in the school’s Newsline letting families know that the food drive was going on and any donations that were brought in were dropped off in the school lobby, in Richards' room, or in Mrs. Blanchard/Ms. Pierce's room.

The students had established a goal of collecting 50 canned items, but at the end of their food drive, they were shocked and thrilled to see that they surpassed that goal and collected 158 items for donation to the Windham Food Pantry.

During the "Hunger Hits Home" lessons unit at Manchester School, students learned about food insecurity through guest speakers, short stories, and research. For their final projects, Richards said that students were given the opportunity to present their learning and ideas in a format that worked best for their learning style and in a way that allowed them to dive deeper on a concept they found interesting, such as budgeting, giving back, providing the community information around resources, and other ideas, one being a food drive created and run entirely by students.

“I found this project to be important for a number of reasons. First and foremost, I think it is insanely important for students to recognize that they can make a difference in the community. We are constantly teaching students to think about how they can help and support one another, and this project really showed that they take that to heart,” Richards said. “Second, I think it is important for students to be able to take charge of their learning and allow their interests and passions to guide them. The fact that a group of students thought that this would be the perfect way to showcase their learning is what gave them the energy to create and hold such a successful food drive. Finally, I think it is important for students to recognize how many people struggle with food insecurity in our community and what resources are available to help these families.”

Students say it was rewarding to be involved in the food drive.

“I wanted to help people who don't have food, because I feel really bad for them and it's not fair for these people,” said fourth grader Aubrey Eklund.

“I wanted to raise resources for people in need,” said fourth grader Ryder Alfred-Smothers.

“I wanted to help with the food drive because it's important for other people to have food too,” said fourth grader Maddie Talbot.

Fourth grader Ryder Rice said that the hardest part of the food drive was getting people on board to do it and donate.

“We should maybe do another food drive at the beginning of next school year,” Rice said. “We should do it again to help others.”

Coolidge said that she’s humbled to play a small part in inspiring Manchester students to help others.

“This is my why. I get asked by so many, why do you do all that you do? This is why. To inspire change, to educate our children on food insecurity, to not 'make fun' of those that don't have what you have, to normalize it because it's never going away,” Coolidge said. “In my travels across the country as former Mrs. USA and now Mrs. Worldwide, food banks are seeing a 50 percent increase in those that have never visited a food bank before. That number is astounding. I hope my book starts a conversation between parents and their kids about the reality of hunger and possibly even prompts the question of how they can help.

“It's clear here that my visit to Manchester School had an impact on these kids and I'm so happy that they took the initiative to give back to their community,” she said. “Truly amazing. I hope that all my visits encourage change in their districts and possibly inspire a Hunger Action Month each year and that they ask me to return to visit.”

Richards said the one thing she wants her students to take away from this experience is that they recognize that they can make a difference.

“Sometimes we forget that these little people have a fire inside them too, and they can use that to create such a change,” Richards said. “I want them to remember the difference and impact that they made at such a young age and continue to use their voice and actions to make the community, and world, a better place. I also want them to be able to recognize that there are resources for them, their neighbors, and their friends to help them if they are in need. We learned a lot about how many people struggle with food insecurity and that there are resources in place to help them.” <